The County Board tonight (Tuesday) is expected to discuss what to do with the extra cash as part of its annual budget close-out process, which has previously been criticized for a lack of public input.
The public will have a month to weigh in on the draft recommendations before a final vote in November.
The County Manager’s budget close-out recommendations were posted online Monday morning. Among the recommendations:
- $0.95 million for police equipment, replacement of emergency generators and other “critical life safety needs.”
- $2.5 million for land acquisition and costs associated with temporary facilities for Fire Station 8 and Fire Station 10.
- $1.0 million for expanding the use of a key rainy-day reserve fund to include “unanticipated expenditure requirements, such as weather events.”
- $2.1 million for rent subsidies that benefit low income, elderly and disabled residents.
- $7.0 million for the county’s Affordable Housing Investment Fund, which will provide much of the $9.4 million in one-time funding for the fund budgeted for FY 2017.
- $1.7 million for various capital projects and maintenance.
- $1.0 million for “unforeseen needs that arise during the current fiscal year.”
- $1.6 million reserved for future allocations, to be considered as part of the FY 2018 budget process.
Overall county revenue was above projections for FY 2016. (See partial table, above.) The $17.8 million in close-out funding is a result of the extra revenue and conservative budgeting, county officials say, but it’s a lower percentage of the General Fund budget — 2.3 percent — than previous years.
“While this amount is significant in dollar terms, it is the lowest as a percent of total budget in recent years, reflecting increased expenditure levels due to the lifting of the hiring slowdown and the significant snow events of this past winter,” staff wrote.
The close-out allocations are intended to closely align with existing County Board policies and priorities.
It “expands on the approach taken last year where allocations of available funding are
focused on a few major categories of priorities consistent with County Board policies” and “moves away from the occasional past practice of providing initial funding for new
programs via close-out,” county staff wrote.
While some critics have suggested that the county deliberately over-budgets so that it can have a “slush fund” left over at the end of the year, county staff argue that its conservative budgeting is necessary to keep Arlington’s top-notch bond rating and smooth out budgetary “bumps” throughout the year.
“It is important to note that good financial management and retention of the triple-AAA bond ratings require that the County ends each year with a surplus (revenues in excess of projections or expenditures less than budget),” said the staff report. “The County’s historically conservative budgeting practices have allowed us to accommodate unanticipated events (snow, state / federal budget cuts) without having to go back to the County Board and community for mid-year service reductions and budget cuts.”